If you’re going to find your stride, a few weeks before the playoffs start is not bad timing. The Windsor Spitfires took matters into their own hands last weekend, taking care of business at home while ensuring their season won’t end after 68 games.
To say it’s been a rocky road since Christmas would be an understatement. Going from a battle for the first seed in the OHL’s Western Conference to hoping for home ice is a lot to take in over two months. Slumps are going to happen but it’s how you get yourself out that truly counts.
Coming into last weekend, they had lost six straight at home and were itching to turn the momentum.
Home Slump Snapped
For a team that lost nine games in total before Christmas, losing six straight on home ice was a strange wake-up call. However, with three games at home, there was no time like the present to figure it all out.
On Thursday night, they welcomed the Soo Greyhounds to the WFCU Centre. The Spitfires had won all four matches this season, including scoring 10 goals on two separate occasions up north. However, if you expected the same result, you were about to be disappointed.
The teams kept each other at bay through the 60 minutes as Greyhounds’ goaltender Bailey Brkin and Spitfires’ goaltender Xavier Medina faced just 59 shots combined. With the clubs only splitting a pair of goals, overtime was the option.
In the extra frame, an interference penalty cost the Spitfires and the Greyhounds took full advantage, grabbing the 2-1 win. It wasn’t the start the home team wanted but a point was something to build off.
Saturday night was a much different story and a different Spitfires’ team. They welcomed the Guelph Storm into town, a team right on their back for fifth in the conference. The home side had revenge on its mind.
The Spitfires put 21 first-period shots on 2020 World Juniors’ goaltender Nico Daws. However, the steady veteran kept his team in the game, down just 2-1. That was as close as the Storm would come, though.
Everyone got into the act for the Spitfires as the game wore on. With 10 different players getting at least one point, they jumped out to a 4-2 lead after 40 before finishing the Storm off with a 6-3 final.
After Thursday’s disappointing loss, this was a statement game and a result they desperately needed.
Spitfires Find Wright Stuff
Sunday afternoon, the Spitfires finished off the weekend with a game against the Kingston Frontenacs, who are fighting for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The visitors were coming off a surprising 6-1 win against the Flint Firebirds on Saturday, where rookie phenom Shane Wright had three goals and an assist.
All eyes were on the young star early, but the Spitfires managed to keep him quiet. They scored a pair of goals in the first, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. While the Frontenacs tied it at two, Daniel D’Amico gave the home side a 3-2 lead with seven seconds left in the frame. That was all the momentum the home team needed.
The Spitfires scored three more in the second for a 6-2 lead after 40. Mercy was long gone in the third period as the home side added another three for a 9-2 lead. Even the fans showed no mercy, chanting “We Want 10!” They were rewarded as one more made it a 10-2 final.
With blowouts tend to come frustrations and emotions boiling over. The game got out of hand in the third period with several roughing minors and a mini brawl that saw three players ejected. Frontenacs’ defenceman Lucas Peric was suspended four games for his actions during the brawl. These events are rare in junior hockey but frustrations were evident. Nobody likes being on the wrong end of a lopsided game.
When the buzzer sounded, the Frontenacs bolted off the ice while the Spitfires celebrated a five-point weekend.
“X” Marks the Spot
Saturday’s win over the Storm was a big deal. It earned the Spitfires’ that big “X” next to their name, clinching a playoff spot for the fifth-straight season. It’s a nice target to hit but the hard work is far from over.
The Spitfires held a team meeting with coaches and players on Friday to figure out what went wrong against the Greyhounds on Thursday night. The result was scoring six goals on a world-class goaltender (Daws), followed by 10 goals in the third game of the weekend. Message received; if you don’t put the effort in, the playoffs will be a short one.
As they head into this weekend, the goal is now simple — keep the momentum going. It starts Thursday at home against the Owen Sound Attack, followed by a road trip against the Firebirds on Saturday, and back home on Sunday to face the Kitchener Rangers.
The Spitfires sit six points behind the Firebirds with two games in hand, nine points behind the Rangers, and 10 points up on the Attack. All three games will be playoff-style and anything less than a full effort can’t be tolerated.
This team knows what they’re capable of. Head coach Trevor Letowski has put the systems and lines in place to be successful. We’ve seen what they can do. While the home slump drains you, it’s now in the past. The five points are as big for the confidence as they are for the standings.
The next three games won’t be easy by any stretch but if the Spitfires play as they did on Saturday and Sunday, there’s no reason they can’t keep the pressure on the Firebirds for that home-ice spot. How much do they really want it? Let’s find out.